Elucid has had a busy few years. Since 2018, the prolific New York rapper has released an excellent record as one half of Nostrum Grocers, three albums with the always brilliant Armand Hammer—most recently 2021’s Alchemist-produced Haram—a few solo projects, and collaborations with artists like The Lasso, and Von Pea. I Told Bessie is another in a long list of records from a rapper committed to an uncompromising sonic and lyrical exploration. Here—as on his previous records—he shows as much interest in experimental sounds and textures as he is in crafting his dense, cryptic, quick-fire lyrics. The result is thrillingly uncomfortable and enveloping—an immersive album of strange soundscapes of deconstructed, twisted funk and intense, commanding lyricism.
In the first moments of the opener “Spellling,” we hear a sample of American academic, Professor Joy James. Her insight on the impossible predicament of loving your community when such love and nurturing is taken advantage of by an exploitative system is resonant, echoing through the album’s subject matter and tying to the album’s status as a tribute to Elucid’s paternal grandmother, Bessie Hall. As for the music, intricate, lyrically dense rhymes float atop a melancholic, warping beat, courtesy of indie duo Child Actor. Elucid’s low, authoritative voice booms through the speakers, and even when a thematic through-line is difficult to pin down, the rapping, intermittently doused in both effects and affect, remain engaging.
This is particularly effective on tracks with instrumentals as minimalist as the Sebb Bash-produced “Bunny Chow”. Over hypnotic, processed vocal samples, Elucid’s poetry and flow take precedence. With Child Actor’s unexpected sequencing and warped guitars, “Old Magic” returns to the sonic palette of the opener, providing another trippy backdrop for ELUCID’s urgent writing. “Sardonyx” introduces the first features, with Pink Siifu, billy woods and Quelle Chris adding typically great verses to Sebb Bash’s disquieting woodwind sampling. Amidst a slew of terrific lyrical moments, woods’ sardonic humor stands out: “I can see it in the eyes of your oldest/I can see you just goin’ through the motions, feel the coldness/Hop off the private jet, walk into the rotors, that’s new money/Old money mummified corpses, tryna stuff it in their coffins.”
The slow, churning propulsion of “Ghoulie” showcases the album’s experimental sonics before exploding into the energetic “Smile Lines.” With “Nostrand” and “Impasse,” Elucid offers further demonstration of his ability to create detailed, enveloping soundscapes. With the former, The Alchemist helms the production. On “Mangosteen,” the Armand Hammer duo and Child Actor join forces again to deliver a highlight of the record. The slowed, twisted funk groove eventually gives way to a drum-less, hypnotic track, “Split Tongue.” Elucid’s bellowing, effects-laden voice commands an almost trance-like attention. We are snapped out of the trance with “Jumanji,” an intense, percussive track produced by Kenny Segal. Elucid is electric here, dancing over the beat in progressively unexpected ways.
The beat switch at the backend is genuinely thrilling, aided by a short but intriguing verse from billy woods. “Betamax” is an incredible closer, while the following “Guy R. Brewer” feels more like an outro. The production by P.U.D.G.E is stunning, the instrumental momentarily losing the beat before returning in time to its bassy, warped funk sequencing. Elucid’s effortless navigation of such complex rhythms continues to baffle. “You gon’ feel it in the rhythm in the pattern,” he declares at the last moments. This may be the rapper’s uniquely fascinating quality: he seems to have a rhythmic capacity in his writing and delivery that is incomparable to any current rapper. A terrific record from one of hip-hop’s best wordsmiths.
Noah Sparkes is a UK-based culture writer specialising in film, TV, and music. With a particular interest in the intersection of culture, politics, and history, Noah has written in a variety of outlets.